Do Women Need Birth Control and Safe Abortions? The Story of Emma Brown Carmack
Several states are making it more difficult for women to obtain an abortion. Some states only have one abortion provider. Some states require a 24 – 48 hour waiting period after seeing a doctor before he will perform an abortion. Now some states are requiring trans-vaginal ultrasounds prior to an abortion. Some states won’t even allow abortions to save the life of the mother. Additionally, there are forces out there trying to ban birth control.
Please take a few minutes to read about Emma Brown Carmack and what her lack of birth control and a safe abortion meant to her family.
Emma Carmack was my great-grandmother. She lived in Tennessee and was married with six children. Her husband was an alcoholic who seldom worked and when he did earn some money, all of it went to alcohol. Emma and her children were incredibly poor. They had to rely upon the kindness of neighbors for food and clothing. They often went to bed hungry. In the early 1900s, when Emma’s oldest child (my grandmother) was 11 years old, Emma discovered she was pregnant again. This was in the days of “marital rights” for husbands and women could not legally say “no” to a husband. There was also no form of reliable, effective birth control, or any way to safely terminate the pregnancy.
Emma was desperate. She didn’t want to bring another child into the world only to face starvation. She had no hopes of providing a good future for her children and another child would just mean even less for the children she already had. We’re not talking about fewer toys…we’re talking about less food, less hope.
So, Emma did what thousands of other desperate women did. She tried to end her pregnancy with knitting needles. She sent my grandmother and her older boys off to school. She sent the younger boys to a neighbor’s house. She left her three month old baby in his crib. Then she laid down on her bed and tried to end her pregnancy. Emma bled to death in her bed. She must have had a few minutes to realize that she was going to die and leave her children motherless. Can you imagine how helpless and desperate she felt?
My grandmother came home from school to find the baby crying in his crib and her mother laying on a blood-soaked mattress. Now she was faced with the prospect of caring for all her younger brothers and she was only 11 years old. Her father appeared long enough to bury his wife and put his children on a bus to Arizona. A young girl, caring for a three month old baby and four other young children, all the way from Tennessee to Arizona. They moved in with a spinster aunt who raised them. They still lived in poverty with very little hope of a decent future. I’m proud to say that my grandmother raised her brothers well. She worked hard and sent them to school and one of them managed to go to college. One joined the military and died in Germany during world War I. But my grandmother’s opportunities were very limited by the circumstances of caring for her siblings.
I have a very old picture of Emma sitting on a lawn in a long dress and surrounded by friends and sisters. Sitting in front of her is a blonde haired toddler who I believe is my grandmother. Emma looks very happy in the picture. When I look at this, I often wonder how long she was happy. She must have been worn down by having a baby every year and the poverty that overtook her life. I can’t imagine that her happiness lasted very long.
Studies have shown that women who control how often and how many babies they have are much healthier and happier. So are their children. I have never believed that abortions are good. But I do believe they are necessary at times. Desperate women take desperate measures and those measures shouldn’t have to include knitting needles, back-alley doctors, infections, bleeding, and death.
If you have a mother, sister, wife or daughter, please consider their circumstances. They should have every right to plan their pregnancies and control the size of their families. If their life is in danger, would you want them to die rather than have an abortion?
The goal of both conservatives and liberals is to reduce the number of abortions performed in this country. But making them illegal won’t do that. It will just mean that more women will die. Banning birth control will only increase the number of abortions performed whether they are legal or not.
If there is a woman in your life that you care about, please join her in her fight to retain the right to birth control and her right to choose what is best for her and her family.
Please consider this important issue when you vote and remember what happened to Emma Carmack because of her lack of choices. My grandmother and her brothers had to grow up without their mother. Their children all grew up without their grandmother.
We can stop this from happening again, but only if we stand together.